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James Goldberg of Glastonbury, Conn., recently was arrested for carrying a firearm at his neighborhood Chili's restaurant, and his release because his actions were legal has sparked a major debate over the Second Amendment.
But the legislative director for the Massachusetts Gun Owners Action League, Jim Wallace, contends the case is evidence of the successful work of gun opponents in demonizing the hardware itself, using fear to crack down on a legal activity.
"I am not quite sure what the hysteria is about people carrying anything. If police officers carry openly, is the general public scared? They shouldn't be. Nor should they be scared if their fellow citizens are doing the same thing. The problem is the irrational stigma, probably created by the media, about guns themselves." Wallace said.
Police Have No Duty To Protect Individuals
Warren v. District of Columbia is one of the leading cases of this type. Two women were upstairs in a townhouse when they heard their roommate, a third woman, being attacked downstairs by intruders. They phoned the police several times and were assured that officers were on the way. After about 30 minutes, when their roommate's screams had stopped, they assumed the police had finally arrived. When the two women went downstairs they saw that in fact the police never came, but the intruders were still there. As the Warren court graphically states in the opinion: "For the next fourteen hours the women were held captive, raped, robbed, beaten, forced to commit sexual acts upon each other, and made to submit to the sexual demands of their attackers."
The three women sued the District of Columbia for failing to protect them, but D.C.'s highest court exonerated the District and its police, saying that it is a "fundamental principle of American law that a government and its agents are under no general duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any individual citizen." There are many similar cases with results to the same effect.
In the Warren case the injured parties sued the District of Columbia under its own laws for failing to protect them. Most often such cases are brought in state (or, in the case of Warren, D.C.) courts for violation of state statutes, because federal law pertaining to these matters is even more onerous. But when someone does sue under federal law, it is nearly always for violation of 42 U.S.C. 1983 (often inaccurately referred to as "the civil rights act"). Section 1983 claims are brought against government officials for allegedly violating the injured parties' federal statutory or Constitutional rights.
The seminal case establishing the general rule that police have no duty under federal law to protect citizens is DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services. Frequently these cases are based on an alleged "special relationship" between the injured party and the police. In DeShaney the injured party was a boy who was beaten and permanently injured by his father. He claimed a special relationship existed because local officials knew he was being abused, indeed they had "specifically proclaimed by word and deed [their] intention to protect him against that danger," but failed to remove him from his father's custody.
The Court in DeShaney held that no duty arose because of a "special relationship," concluding that Constitutional duties of care and protection only exist as to certain individuals, such as incarcerated prisoners, involuntarily committed mental patients and others restrained against their will and therefore unable to protect themselves. "The affirmative duty to protect arises not from the State's knowledge of the individual's predicament or from its expressions of intent to help him, but from the limitation which it has imposed on his freedom to act on his own behalf."
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